The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke to reporters in Geneva to mark the beginning of the next round of Syria talks there. He said that people have begun to arrive in Geneva and that he would hold proximity talks over the coming days as more of the parties arrive. And the Special Envoy added that he expects to start substantive discussions on 14 March, in a round that he expects to end by 24 March. Mr. de Mistura asserted that much has been achieved over the past days, with a cessation of hostilities largely holding on the ground while more than 238,000 people have been reached with humanitarian aid. He acknowledged that there have been incidents by different spoilers on the ground, but added that, by and large, there has been quite a sustained reduction of violence.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, has condemned the recent multiple attacks in Tel Aviv/Jaffa, Petah Tiqva and Jerusalem in which at least one person was killed and some 14 others injured. He said that there is and can never be any justification for terror, and that it is deplorable that some choose to glorify such acts that undermine the future of both Palestinians and Israelis. Mr. Mladenov said that political, religious and community leaders on all sides must live up to their responsibility to stand up firmly against violence and incitement. They must urgently take the necessary steps to rebuild hope and show that a political horizon for a negotiated two-state solution is still possible.
The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York, having left Bonn earlier today. Yesterday evening, the Secretary-General met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, with whom he exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine, underlining the need for further progress on implementation of the Minsk Agreement. The Secretary-General briefed the Foreign Minister about ongoing UN efforts aimed at resolving the political crisis in Burundi. They also talked about the situations in Syria and Yemen, agreeing on the urgency to reinvigorate political processes to solve both crises as well as to enhance humanitarian access immediately. The Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister assessed efforts to forge a collective response to the large movements of refugees and migrants towards Europe.
Thirty-four countries, including 27 in Africa, are currently in need of external assistance for food due to drought, flooding and civil conflicts, according to a new edition of the Food and Agriculture Organization's Crop Prospects and Food Situation report released today. Drought associated with El Niño has sharply reduced 2016 crop production prospects in Southern Africa, while expectations for the harvest in Morocco and Algeria have been lowered due to dry conditions. Also in areas of Central America and the Caribbean, ongoing dry conditions linked to El Niño may affect sowing of the main season crops for the third consecutive year. The report also warns that last year's reduced production would negatively impact the food security situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Elsewhere, the outlook for the 2016 crops already in the ground is generally favourable. E arly forecasts indicate large 2016 wheat crops in most countries of Asia. The report is available online.
Just a quick note on the Zika virus: yesterday, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan, convened the second meeting of the Emergency Committee regarding clusters of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders in some areas affected by Zika virus. Based on the advice of the Committee, the Director-General declared the continuation of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern. More details are available online.
I have an appointment: the Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Jean Arnault of France as his Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in Colombia. Mr. Arnault has until now served as the Delegate of the Secretary-General to the Subcommission on End of Conflict Issues within the Colombia Peace Process. In this position, he has been working closely with the negotiating teams of the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) in the context of the peace talks that take place in Havana. There is a full biographical note available in our office.
With payments to the regular budget from Chile and South Africa, the total number of fully-paid up Member States has now reached 48. Thank you, Santiago and Pretoria.
**Noon Briefing Guests
Tomorrow, the guests at the noon briefing will be UN-Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, along with Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Chair of the [Commission] on the Status of Women Bureau. They will brief on the upcoming sixtieth Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which will take place on 14 March. Yes, Joe first.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Yesterday, I had asked Stéphane [Dujarric] about whether there would be any comment from the Secretary‑General on Iran's testing of certain ballistic missiles that are said to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. And it's been reported that today Iran has actually tested several more missiles. Stéphane had indicated that there might be a comment or some… that he might have something later in the day. I haven't seen anything so…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. And we still may have something. We're looking into the situation, and we're examining what we will say. Once it's… once that's decided, we'll share that with you. Yes?
Correspondent: Follow-up? I wanted to ask about some comments that Morocco made about the Secretary‑General. They have complained that, by using the term "occupation" to describe Morocco's presence in Western Sahara, that he's no longer neutral. Does the UN have a response?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly, the Secretary‑General believes that he and the United Nations are neutral parties dealing with this. He's been doing everything he can to resolve the situation in Western Sahara. He believes that the importance of his trip was to raise attention once more to the need to come to a solution to a dispute concerning a Non‑Self‑Governing Territory, which has lasted for quite some time now. So, he wanted to make sure, indeed, in the very last year of his term, that this issue is firmly on the international agenda. And he is reaching out to all sides with a neutral attitude. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Farhan, you mentioned the Zika virus in the meeting that was conveyed yesterday. What is the UN… the Secretary‑General office planning to do? We know that we had an Ebola task force. Is something that it might be happening along those lines through the Secretary‑General's office? And the other part is, the organizations, any agencies from the United Nations, we know there has been a lot in terms of prevention of getting the Zika virus, but what happens to those mothers that have already been affected by the virus? Is any planning in trying to help reach out to these communities that the message yesterday from Dr. Chan is not just the microcephaly, but we have other range of consequences affecting those mothers in those countries, many of them probably don't have maybe the support to deal with this.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. And the World Health Organization has been urging support for the affected mothers in the… in those countries. So, it is trying to follow up with the various Governments and inform them about the steps that need to be taken. There's a particular concern regarding pregnant mothers, and so the World Health Organization has been reaching out and has been communicating as, indeed, it did yesterday in its meeting, the particular needs and the particular concerns they have regarding pregnant mothers, and they'll continue with that.
Question: Do you think there will be a task force from the Secretary-General, like it did with Ebola? Do we…?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, the matter is in the hands of the World Health Organization, and they're fully in charge of the matter, and they've been doing a very good job of communicating to all of the affected Governments. Yes, Sherwin?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I wanted to get some comment on the draft resolution before the Security Council, now negotiations are continuing on the… to endorse the recommendations of the Secretary‑General's report on sexual exploitation in UN peacekeeping. What are your thoughts on the action in the Security Council, but, specifically, on what appears to be a sticking point in these negotiations as to where the countries or offenders, offending countries, should be named and shamed. And I know this is a… the Secretary‑General regards that particular policy change as very important. Would he like to see that specifically mentioned in the resolution?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, of course, this is still a matter that would come up for consideration by the Security Council. So I'll preface it by pointing out that this is a matter in the hands of the Member States of the Security Council, and we'll leave it in their hands. But, of course, you'll already have seen what the Secretary‑General himself has been doing, particularly with regard to the naming of troop-contributing countries. He has taken a stand on this. He's explained very clearly why he's taken that stand and what he hopes to achieve in terms of making sure that there's real accountability. So, he stands by that, and he certainly hopes that the Member States will understand his reasoning and his posture about that. Of course, if the Security Council is to meet on this, the Secretary‑General would be willing to talk to them, and so we'll have to see whether he gets a chance to brief the Council. We expect him back in New York later today. Yeah?
Question: Is he not briefing them tomorrow?
Deputy Spokesman: I expect that. Of course, meeting schedules are in the hands of the Security Council, not us. But, yes, we expect that to happen tomorrow. Yes, Cia Pak?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Last year, about roughly 5,000 refugees lost their life by crossing Mediterranean to Europe, and US is not accepting any refugees because of the political situation right now and the housing and all these things. And at UN, there's such a beautiful building called North Lawn that's been tearing down. And couldn't UN use that to house refugees and maybe teach the world that we can do something about human beings? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that's an interesting idea. Of course, we are not a government, and so our ability to bring people into this country is not the same as that of the Government of the United States, which actually controls the borders. But, certainly, we have been pushing all Governments to open their borders, to be more generous towards the people who have had to flee. We want there to be an equitable sharing of responsibilities, and at this stage, of course, that hasn't happened. Some countries, particularly the countries in the region, have borne a disproportionate share, and we want that to change and for more countries to take in more people.
Question: May I just ask one follow‑up? Couple of weeks ago or maybe month ago, I asked you in regard of Danish law for the refugees, and they said that they are in touch with the Danish Government. Are you still in touch with the Danish Government? Any improvement on the laws that…?
Deputy Spokesman: We've been in touch with a number of member Governments, and you'll have seen what the Secretary‑General said, including, by the way, in his recent visit to Germany that just concluded about the situation on migrants and refugees. So, I'll refer you to that. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. CAR [Central African Republic], sexual abuse and Burundi. You'll see… can judge whether… in CAR, it seems like there's a lot of people reporting on this fighting in Bambari, having killed up to 10 people. And I'm wondering what the… what… what the Mission knows, what they're doing about it, and also whether the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) contingent that it was said was pulling out of Bambari, then it was said that some 20 would remain. What's the status of them pulling out?
Deputy Spokesman: They're gone. Those 20 remained in order to handle last logistical chores. They've left.
Question: They're gone. Okay. And what about this fighting, the 10 dead, or how many are dead?
Deputy Spokesman: We'll have to check what the Mission's saying about that. [He later shared a press release from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) detailing its actions in Bambari.] Edie?
Question: Farhan, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the reports that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong‑un, says his country has developed miniaturized nuclear warheads that… that would, obviously, allow them to send atomic bombs at a very long distance?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage, we're aware, of course, of the media accounts. We've already said in the past that there has been a lot of rhetoric and a lot of provocation regarding the issues on the Korean Peninsula. And we've tried to see… to call on the parties to halt that particular cycle of provocation and counter-provocation. At the same time, I'm… we're not aware of whether this is an actual development that goes beyond what we've seen in the media accounts. So, I'd really just stick to pointing out, again, the need for all sides to calm… to avoid rhetoric and to work towards a de‑escalation of tensions on the peninsula. Yes, in the back. Oh, sorry. Wait. Benny first, and then in the back. No… okay. Tricky. Too many simultaneous hands.
Question: On Colombia, what’s the status of the preparations for the Mission and when does the Secretary‑General expect to present his proposals to the Security Council?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, he's working on proposals to the Council. As you see, just today, we named Jean Arnault as head of the Mission. The Mission really comes into effect once there is an agreement in place between the parties. So at this stage, what we're doing is planning for a mission, but it can't begin its operations formally. Yes, Benny?
Question: Thanks. Just to make sure, the follow‑up to the question on the Iranian launch. The specific question is whether the… in the eyes of the UN Secretariat, those launches are violations of Security Council resolution, especially since the implementation date of… that JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] implementation date.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we're certainly looking into the issue. And of course, as you're well aware, it's up to the Security Council members themselves to determine whether their relevant resolutions are being abided with.
Question: But, will the Secretariat weigh in on this, on the question of whether this violates or not?
Deputy Spokesman: When our language is ready, we shall see. Yes, Olga?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. A follow‑up on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] question: has Secretary‑General any chance or intention to verify the statements by DPRK about their capability now to set the warheads on ballistic missiles?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has a role to play in this, but we would need for the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency sufficient access to prove or disprove any of these claims. Yes?
Question: Ask you about Burundi. You'd said that the Secretary‑General discussed it with the general Foreign Minister. Just came from a meeting down in Conference Room 8 of the Burundi configuration peacebuilding, and there Mr. [Ivan] Šimonović said that the two radio stations that were reopened were forced to sign commitments about their future coverage. And Mr. [Jamal] Benomar said that the two stations were not critical of the Government. I'm asking you because the Secretary‑General praised this as a… as a… as a move toward freedom of the press, the reopening of two stations in Burundi. And now two people that work for him said that… that they… they were never critical of the Government and they were forced to sign commitments about their future coverage. So, I wonder, does he stand… what… what… what did he mean by that? Was this really a positive step, or was there some difference of opinion between the 38th Floor and these other two floors that these gentlemen are on?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, the Secretary‑General's comments were regarding the general principle of allowing media to go about their tasks. Obviously, we would be concerned about any restrictions imposed upon the media, but at the same time, we appreciate any efforts to open up space for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Question: But, what about telling a media, as a condition of reopening, it has to commit to a certain kind of coverage? That's what they're discussing down in Conference Room 8.
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, what we want is for the media to be free to do their work unconditionally. Yes?
Question: Yes, it's approaching five months since the scandal involving John Ashe broke and the audit was launched regarding the South‑South Cooperation office. Can you give us a status report on… I mean, this is taking a long time. Can you give us a status report on the work?
Deputy Spokesman: No. The work is going on. We're allowing them to do the work. Once it's done, we'll certainly let you know. Yes, Emoke?
Question: Farhan, on North Korea, has the Secretary‑General been in touch with the North Korean Government since the new sanctions resolution was passed?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you saw our statement, which was issued immediately after the passage of the resolution last week. That was shared with the Mission. So, we are in contact again with the UN Mission of the DPRK. Yes?
Question: Couple other things, but just to follow up on Joe's question about the audit, does this audit mean… does it have kind of subpoena power? Who can it speak to? Because given that… that you're looking at the connections between Ng Lap Seng, Sheri Yan and the Global Sustainability Foundation and the UN system, does the audit involve speaking with non‑UN individuals? Can people that receive funds or… or… from the UN or in the UN be… be… be spoken to? What kind of an audit is it?
Deputy Spokesman: It's an audit conducted in the standard format by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), and they question whoever they feel they need to question. We're not a prosecutorial body and don't have extraordinary subpoena powers, but they can conduct their audits according to the standard auditing practices.
Question: Right, but have they sought to speak to Ng Lap Seng, for example, the person accused of actually funneling money for bribes?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, the details of what's accomplished in the audit will be made available once that audit has been completed. That hasn't happened yet. Benny?
Question: On North Korea, in addition to the miniaturization, there's a question of threats for preemptive strike in South Korea, nuclear preemptive strike in South Korea. Anything on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, again, like I said, we want the DPRK to avoid any sort of provocative rhetoric and work towards a de‑escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Correspondent: And presumably nuclear launch.
Deputy Spokesman: That would go without saying. Yes?
Question: If I can follow up on the Western Sahara, does… has the Secretary-General spoken to the Moroccan authorities in the past few days after the visit? And is the… this next visit to Rabat that has been planning still in discussions?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, it is still in discussions, and, yes, we are still in touch with the Moroccan authorities, and we will continue being in touch, including at the level of the Secretary‑General's Executive Office. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. South Sudan and Sri Lanka. On South Sudan, I wanted to know… I'd asked Stéphane yesterday about reported fighting in Pibor and people fleeing supposed… seeking protection. And I also… now there's a report in the town of Nasir of significant fighting between SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] and SPLA in Opposition and maybe a third force there. What is the… what is the… UNMISS' [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] knowledge… I saw they did a press conference, but it seems like all of the questions were about International Women's Day. What's the state of their knowledge of the fighting in Pibor, Nasir and elsewhere in the country?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly were informed that they're looking into the reports of fighting in Pibor. I don't have any details to give yet, but they are looking into it. And if they have details about the latest reported fighting, we'll share that with you in subsequent days.
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you two questions on Sri Lanka, one I think you'll… you'll acknowledge as a Sri Lankan question. There's a gentleman named Shaminda who's a witness in a series of trials, but many of them involve the former Rajapaksa Government and crimes committed, including war crimes. And he's been killed. He was killed in broad daylight in Colombo. A prison van that was trans… taking him back to the court was stopped, and people shot into the van with machine guns, and he's dead. So, I want… given the statements the Secretary‑General has made about the rule of law and improvements in Sri Lanka, what… what has he taken note of, and what does he say about the execution in broad daylight of a witness against former President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa?
Deputy Spokesman: We'd be concerned about any such executions. Obviously, we want the authorities on the ground to look into this and fully investigate.
Correspondent: Okay. And this… I'll do this briefly and you can…
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. Benny first.
Question: Speaking of provocative language, yesterday's launch was from silos that, according to… that were portrayed on Iranian TV in which… and cameras showed that there were… are Israeli flags on the bottom of the silos. Today's launch had written in Hebrew "wipe out Israel off the map". Is that considered provocative language, or is that…?
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, it is. And any threat against any Member State is provocative and should be avoided. Yes. Yes, you.
Correspondent: Okay. So, this is the other, what I’m calling a Sri Lanka question. Beyond the letter from the Northern Provincial Council to Secretary‑General Ban, Cristina Gallach of DPI [Department of Public Information] has received a letter from the… a group called the Tamil Sangam, of diaspora Tamils. And the reason I'm asking you is the following: They've sent me her response to them. They raised a number of issues about Sri Lanka coverage, UN's performance in Sri Lanka, and she wrote back and said: "I want to firmly clarify that Mr. Lee has total access at the UN." And since that's actually not the case, since I can't go through the turnstile on the second…
Deputy Spokesman: That is the case.
Correspondent: No, it's not. I can't cover ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council]. I can't cover Trusteeship. I'm telling you…
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, you have access. We're standing in a briefing room in the United Nations right now. You’re asking…
Correspondent: Oh, I know. She said "total access", "total access", So let me ask you…
Deputy Spokesman: You can go anywhere that the other reporters [can].
Question: No, I can't. What about the 2nd Floor of the conference building? I'm… this pass doesn't work, and I'm told by security I cannot go there. So, I'm asking you, what did she mean by "total access"?
Deputy Spokesman: You can go to the Security Council stakeout or any other public area.
Correspondent: This is not tr… not the case. Come with me…
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, I used to have a non‑resident pass many, many, many years ago, and I used to go all the areas.
Question: Absolutely. They didn't used to have a glass turnstile there. And I'm also… I'm also told to leave the building at 7 p.m.? Is that the case, that if I leave the building after 7 p.m., I can't come back into it no matter what work I'm doing. Is that the case?
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, as far as I'm aware, you have the time to go about the work that you need to do. Joe?
Correspondent: I'm totally contesting it, totally.
Deputy Spokesman: Joe?
Question: Actually, following up on Benny's question, and it goes to why it is taking more than 24 hours to come up… what… come up with any comment. You have the inscription in Hebrew on these missiles threatening to wipe out Israel. That should… that should… shouldn't that elicit, at least that, a fairly immediate comment on the record from the Secretary‑General?
Deputy Spokesman: I did comment on that immediately, just now.
Question: But what… then what is taking so long in terms of context to look at these potential violations of a series of Security Council resolutions coupled with that threat?
Deputy Spokesman: What can I say? My colleagues are examining the situation. Once we have their language, we'll share it.
Question: Do you have a time frame?
Deputy Spokesman: The time frame was yesterday. Have a good afternoon, everyone.